National Patient Safety Awareness Week was recognized March 2 – 8, 2014 by The National Patient Safety Foundation, a foundation supported financially by a giant pharmaceutical company, other large corporations and the American Medical Association. The foundation’s 2014 theme is “Navigate your Health…Safely” and attempts to affirmatively place responsibility for patient safety on us as individuals, rather than the medical community and pharmaceutical manufacturers. At the Becker Law Office we agree with The National Patient Safety Foundation’s three recommendations to help ensure safer health care: that we all be informed, be involved and communicate regularly with our health care providers about our medical condition.

From your long wait at the doctor’s office or pharmacy to have your prescription filled, you know that health care providers may be stretched to their limit or beyond. Even highly competent and dedicated health care professionals make mistakes that end up jeopardizing our personal medical safety when they are overworked. Such is why it is so important to be involved in your own medical care and to be informed about your own medical condition, as this Foundation suggests.

Be proactive in your medical care!

If you have the time before your appointment, do some medical research on-line to get an idea of your illness and possible causes. Then ask lots of questions, even if you cannot do research beforehand. For some reason, people are intimidated or too trusting around medical professionals to ask questions. Qualified and concerned doctors welcome questions from their patients. It helps them give you the proper care you need to get better. They want you to get better, too! Health care providers should not hesitate to answer any questions you have and if they do, find another provider. Don’t hesitate to ask about any subject on your care and treatment, and understand what you need to do, or not do, in order to heal.

  • Take paper and pen and make notes about your visits. Or better yet, keep a notebook dedicated to your medical history and take it with you during all health care visits. Write down questions beforehand so you don’t forget to ask something important you’ll remember later.
  • Get a second opinion. There is nothing wrong with seeking a second opinion, and confident and caring medical providers will encourage you to get one. Find treatment elsewhere if your medical provider discourages you from seeking a second opinion.
  • Keep medical providers informed if your condition changes or worsens.

Know your medical history

A detailed and complete medical history can lead to a more accurate diagnosis and can help your health care provider find the right treatment to help you feel better.

  • Write down a complete medical history including any ongoing medical conditions, prior illnesses, injuries and surgeries, and relevant family history. The nurse will not take you back to the examination room until you provide a history anyway, so cut down on your wait time.
  • Keep a current list of medications. Know the names of the current medications, vitamins, herbs and dietary supplements you are taking, and the dose and frequency. Take the time to create a list to keep with you and to reference when filling out medical registration forms or going to your pharmacy. Most people carry a smart phone or some kind of electronic device, and those are perfect for keeping your current medications list.  Or just take a photo of the pill bottle.
  • Know your family history. Your family history is relevant to your current medical condition and is important information for your health care provider to consider in rendering a diagnosis. If you don’t know, talk to family members and take notes. You may be better prepared to recognize and tackle a medical condition if you know you have a genetic predisposition or family history.

Communication and understanding is key to patient safety

  • Have a friend or family member go with you to medical appointments. A double set of eyes and ears are always helps especially if you’re not feeling well. If you feel lousy you will not be able to remember a lot of details.
  • Ask for written instructions about your diagnosis, your treatment plan and any follow-up instructions to avoid confusion or misunderstanding that could be harmful, or delay your improvement.
  • Follow the treatment plan you and your doctor agree upon.
  • If you’ve been in the hospital or had outpatient surgery, it is essential that you understand your discharge instructions before leaving the health care facility. Make sure you have the phone numbers of the health care facility, your doctor and the pharmacist in case of emergency or if you have questions.

Keep your pharmacist informed

Pharmacists are a key element of the health care system, and need to be active partners in our medical safety. The Institute of Medicine reported in July of 2006 that medication errors harm or kill more than 1.5 million people annually. Unfortunately, medication errors are all too common but to help reduce those errors, there are several things you can do.

  • Tell the pharmacist about your current medications, vitamins, herbs, and any dietary supplements you are taking. Be sure your pharmacist knows of any drug allergies or bad reactions you have experienced in the past when taking certain medications.
  • Use the same pharmacy to fill all of your prescriptions. Many pharmacies have stores nationwide and keep a national database listing all your medications, allergies and sensitivities to help reduce medication errors.
  • Read the label before taking any drug. Make sure the medicine and dose you are about to take is the same medication you were prescribed. If a drug you take regularly looks different, talk to the pharmacist before taking it to make sure it is the correct pill.
  • Make sure you understand how to take your medication. Some medicines are to be taken with food, some without, some in the morning, some at night. Cut down on medication errors and overdose by being informed.
  • Ask about medication side effects and risks. Be alert to symptoms of drug reactions or overdose and contact your health care provider or seek emergency medical treatment immediately.
  • Let your pharmacist know about any allergic reactions or side affects you suffer after taking medication. If you feel worse after taking a new or different dosage of medicine make sure the doctor is aware of the worsening of your condition.

Avoid Infections

This is a simple practice and the first line of defense in your medical safety. Wash your hands regularly and make sure those around you do the same. Do not hesitate to tell health care professions to wash their hands before examining you, or ask them to put on new gloves. “Super bugs” such as MRSA and C-Diff. are easily transmitted from patient to patient, and can be deadly, especially if health care providers neglect to follow the basic rules of hygiene and patient safety. Your mom told you to wash your hands for a reason!

Children are especially vulnerable and need strong advocacy

Don’t be afraid to speak up and to ask questions when making health care decisions for your child. As their parent, you are their strongest advocate and best medical historian. Be aware that medication errors are more common with children because medication dosage is based on the child’s weight. Confirm the correct dosage with your pharmacist, read the label carefully before giving medication to your child, look for side effects and be aware of what to look for if your child has accidentally overdosed.

Follow these recommendations to help navigate the health care system more efficiently and safely.

Here’s to good health!